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Newton Upstanders

FAQ

What is Newton Upstanders? 


Newton Upstanders is a grassroots network of community members who came together in March 2023 to support our community's commitment to diversity, equity, access, inclusion, and belonging (DEAIB).


Who is on the leadership team?


Newton Upstanders is a network of people. We intentionally do not have a formal leadership structure so that different members of the network can take action whenever they see injustice playing out in our city. As an all-volunteer network, we work collectively to support the people and policies that uphold our values in our schools and community. 


Community members who affirm our mission can publicly add their names to our values on our Values page. Several Newton Upstanders have self-identified as representatives of Newton Upstanders on our About page


What is the mission of this group?


Newton Upstanders is an action-oriented community group in Newton, MA dedicated to promoting justice and a sense of belonging in our community. We support DEAIB initiatives and oppose local or national efforts to undermine these widely held community beliefs. 


Are national and other outside groups really targeting Newton?


Yes. For several years, outside groups have taken notice of Newton’s progressive approach to education, one that celebrates a diverse community. Capitalizing on parental fears and grievances fueled by the pandemic, several national “parents’ rights” groups sprang up to advance an anti-DEAIB agenda. Fueled by a backlash against the increased awareness of systemic racism, these groups advance a false narrative that equates antiracism and inclusion with “anti-white racism.” They also often target the LGBTQ+ community, especially transgender youth, under the guise of “protecting children.” 


One of these groups in particular, Parents Defending Education (PDE), is a national group that opposes DEAIB efforts in schools. PDE encourages parents to “expose” what’s happening in their schools and provides resources for parents to oppose these efforts locally. As of September 29, 2023, PDE has reported 64 “incidents” in Newton, primarily focused on affinity groups, Newton Public School’s (NPS) commitment to equity, and events and policies in support of the LGBTQ+ community.


PDE has issued two civil rights complaints against NPS. One complaint over a high school play called “Lost and Found: Our Stories as People of Color” asserted discrimination and has already been deemed meritless by the US Department of Education’s Office of Civil Rights. A second complaint targets NPS’ Dover Legacy Scholars program and is still pending. This group has also issued complaints against The Calculus Project in Milton, MA. The Calculus Project, which also runs in Newton, is designed to narrow the achievement gap in mathematics by instilling a mindset that attributes success to hard work and resilience, by promoting collaboration among participating students, and by improving the mathematics problem solving skills of African American, Hispanic, and low-income students. 


Finally, after PDE created an “incident” report about the inclusion of a local drag queen, Missy Steak, as part of Newton North’s ToBeGlad day, the Newton Republican City Committee organized a protest against the event. This protest falsely characterized the performance as sexualized and inappropriate for high school students. In fact, the performance, which was optional for students to attend, was designed specifically for high-school aged students and focused on celebrating resilience and being true to yourself. As a show of solidarity with students and educators, Newton Upstanders helped organize a counter protest that eclipsed the anti-drag performance protest. 


The Foundation Against Intolerance and Racism (FAIR) is another national conservative group that aims to challenge and curtail DEI initiatives in schools. FAIR establishes local chapters, including one in MetroWest, and provides training and resources for how to advance FAIRs anti-DEI values at the local level. See FAIR’s DEI language here.


A local group, initially called Newton ProHuman, then Newtonforall, and most recently ImproveNPS, has adopted an ideology and language that is almost identical to that used by FAIR. In November, 2022, ImproveNPS sent this letter to the School Committee and Interim Superintendent, requesting changes to NPS’ Statement of Values and Commitment to Racial Equity in anticipation of the Superintendent search. This letter did not focus on academic excellence, but rather urged the School Committee to adopt FAIR’s language which touts “pro-human values” and embraces a “color-blind” approach. This type of “color-blind” approach is aimed at decreasing discomfort in talking about systemic racism, but does not work in a world where racism still negatively impacts people of color. 


In January, 2023, ImproveNPS submitted this petition requesting the formation of an “Academic Principles Advisory Committee'' to “review and recommend revisions to the systemwide goals, NPS Mission Statement, and other documents guiding development and implementation of NPS curriculum, classroom instruction, and teacher professional development….” While the stated purpose of this petition was to address academic excellence, the petition’s primary focus was on revising NPS’s systemwide goals and Mission Statement, including NPS’s Statement of Values and Commitment to Racial Equity. 


After a four-hour long public hearing in which over 100 residents spoke, predominantly in opposition to the petition, the nine member School Committee unanimously rejected the petition. We encourage you to listen to this public hearing to learn about DEAIB programs in our schools and further understand what so many in Newton found problematic about the petition and the approach adopted by ImproveNPS. 

On September 15, 2023, the ImproveNPS.org website became unavailable.


What are dog whistles and how do they apply here? The language used by FAIR seems OK to me.


According to Merriam-Webster “A dog whistle is a coded message communicated through words or phrases commonly understood by a particular group of people, but not by others.” Dog whistles often work by ignoring the context in which a statement is made. "What makes dog whistles so effective is that they often act outside of awareness, using frequencies we register but may not consciously hear" (The Anatomy of a Dog Whistle).


Take, for example, saying “All Lives Matter” in response to “Black Lives Matter.” In a vacuum, the statement All Lives Matter makes perfect sense - of course all lives are equally important. However, Black Lives Matter is an attempt to elevate regard for black lives, which continue to be undervalued, to the same level as white lives. All Lives Matter seeks to undermine that message with coded language. Read this article for a deeper dive.


The same can be said of FAIR’s language, which proposes a “pro-human” approach that recognizes we are “one human race” with a “common humanity.” Of course all of these ideas are appealing, but this language ignores historical context and the present day reality that people are, in fact, not treated as equals. The programs and policies that have been put in place to improve equity and inclusion, such as targeted diversity efforts and affinity groups, are necessary to combat the systems and policies that have led, and continue to lead, to unequal outcomes among groups of people. FAIR’s language is aspirational at best; we all hope that one day we can break down distinctions between groups of people. We are not there yet, and history has demonstrated that without the type of dedicated, focused effort to counteract racism and other forms of -ism’s, we will continue to live in an unfair and unequal society. 


Similarly, groups like FAIR and PDE rely on prejudices and misunderstandings about the LGBTQ+ community to advance their ideological stance. For example, language such as “Let children be children” sounds compelling. However, the intent of these groups is to decide and control where and how LGBTQ+ youth can live as their authentic selves, including intruding on the very personal medical decisions that transgender and gender-diverse youth and their families make in collaboration with their doctors.

What is DEAIB?

DEAIB (diversity, equity, access, inclusion, and belonging) refers to a set of core values focused on supporting, respecting, and appreciating individual differences within communities and organizations. Diversity refers to how broad of range of individuals are represented in a group, based on characteristics such as (but not only) gender, age ethnicity or race, abilities, and/or personal beliefs. Equity means that all people are treated fairly. It is not exactly the same as equality because it recognizes that individuals may have unique circumstances that require different treatment so that the end result is fair and equal. Inclusion refers to how a group treats all individuals so that they have the opportunity to contribute and have their voices heard. Belonging is a feeling that people from all walks of life can show up as their true selves. in our community. 

From a human perspective, DEI efforts are important to ensure that all members of a community, especially those who have historically been marginalized, under resourced, or discriminated against, have opportunities to thrive. There is also a great deal of evidence that DEI efforts benefit everyone, whether that be in schools, in communities, or in the workplace. For example, a recent report by the consulting firm McKinsey (2022) highlighted that companies with greater diversity in gender and in ethnic background outperform companies that are less diverse. In classrooms, DEI efforts are associated with improved critical thinking skills and better academic performance for all students. In fact, the American Psychological Association recently published a study on the benefits of DEI for all students. 


Why is there so much focus on DEAIB?


As described in our press release, targeted diversity efforts are legal and have been used for six decades. DEAIB policies and programming are part of NPS’ efforts to counter systemic racism and actively promote equity in access and outcomes. There is significant precedent for this type of programming which addresses disparate outcomes and reduces racial isolation. These programs are essential to address racial disparities in our educational system.


Examples of successful programs are Newton North’s Dover Legacy Scholars (DLS) and Newton South’s Legacy Scholars, which seek to close the achievement gap among Newton students by providing staff mentors and academic seminars designed to build community and support. Because of the DLS program, Newton North High School has increased the number of Black and Hispanic students taking advanced and Honors classes. In the last seven years, NNHS has gone from fewer than 20 to 100 DLS members.


In fact, Newton North High School was one of only 26 high schools to be recognized on April 5th, 2023, at “Advanced Placement Day at the State House”, because of its success in expanding access to AP courses. NNHS was also awarded the College Board AP® Access Award due to its commitment to expanding access to AP courses at our school.


“Student connectedness” has also improved. Six years ago, Black and Hispanic students were significantly less likely than White and Asian students to report that they felt connected to an adult in the building. This year, Black and Hispanic students responded to this question at the same rate as their Asian and White peers. Similar programs at Newton South and our Middle Schools have been equally impactful.


NPS’s track record includes creating programming and policies to address racial inequities and anti-semitic and racist incidents. This commitment contributes to a safe and inclusive environment for all students to thrive and means that all students have the opportunity to achieve excellence in the NPS.


Can we have both academic excellence and DEAIB programming?


The preponderance of evidence suggests that DEAIB programs enhance academic success, not only for students of color but for ALL students. Here are a few examples:

  • Racial diversity in school does not impact performance among White students. White students in schools with the highest density of Black students perform at the same level as White students in schools with the lowest density of Black students (US Dept of Education, 2015).  

  • Decades of research show that diversity experiences in school (e.g., curriculum about diversity) have significant, meaningful benefits for all students, including academic achievement and intellectual engagement, perspective taking, and citizenship engagement (Gurin et al., 2002).


How can I tell if an organization is anti-DEAIB?


Here are a few warning signs and questions you can ask:

  • Is the group using extreme or provocative language (e.g., “groomer”, “reverse discrimination”, “indoctrination”)? These are meant to prey on emotion and obscure facts.

  • Are they creating false dichotomies (e.g., “We either need to focus on academics or on supporting diversity”)? Most issues are not all or nothing.

  • In what other organizations are key group members involved? What do their social media posts and other communications suggest?  It is important to look behind the curtain. 

  • Are their statements supported by solid evidence? Beware of one case examples or anecdotes. These are often cherry picked to trigger strong emotions rather than paint the full picture.

  • Are they using coded language? What does the language convey when looked at in a contemporary context?


Why should I care about local politics and school-related issues?


Many of us tend to focus on national or state-related issues and elections. It turns out many national issues start out at the local level. Many national anti-DEI organizations gain traction by establishing local chapters and filing complaints aimed at undermining DEI efforts in schools and communities. The decisions made by school boards and city committees around key issues set the precedent for those subsequently made at the state or national level. We have seen this play out in states around the country, including Florida and Texas. Although they may seem small or insignificant, local decisions also have a significant impact on our day-to-day lives and the lives of our families and neighbors. Getting informed and showing up to vote on local issues are some of the most important ways you can ensure that Newton reflects your values and priorities.


So what do I need to know about elections in Newton?


Newton is holding critical elections in November 2023 to elect all 8 School Committee and all 24 City Council members. Newton Upstanders will be paying close attention to the races and will share information here about the various candidates' commitment to supporting DEAIB in our schools and community. In the meantime, see which members of the City Council and SChool Committee have signed our values statement


I think my community needs an Upstander group. Can you help me get started?


Yes! Check out our About page to connect with us for support. 

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